Belgium's Great Beers
Understanding the styles
Many breweries in Belgium produce characterful beers that defy categorisation. Van Honsebrouck's very strong (11.0 per cent) Ch‰teau/Kasteel Beer, aged in a castle or mansion house at Ingelmunster, East Flanders, is perhaps comparable to a strong Old Ale or dark-brown Barley Wine in the English-speaking world. A wide range of strong specialities is made by De Dolle Brouwers, at Esen, near Diksmuide, not far from Ostend. These "Mad Brewers" are a family of professional people (an architect, a doctor...). They stepped in when their local brewer retired due to ill-health. They operate the brewery at weekends, and open a sample room and shop (9.0-7.0 Saturdays; 2.0-7.0 Sundays). It is a fine example of a country brewery - and its beers are well worth tasting. So is Grottenbier Bruin, partly aged (for one to two months) in limestone caves, and turned weekly like Champagne. This project has been a long-term dream of the ever-inventive Belgian brewer Pierre Celis. The beer is made by the De Smedt brewery, noted for its Affligem range. The "Grotto Beer" is a strongish (6.5abv) dark ale, in which small quantities of "exotic" spices are added to create a gentle, balancing dryness and crispness. A lover of pale Barley Wines would enjoy the powerful but beautifully-balanced Bush Beer, at 12 per cent, a Belgian classic from Dubuisson, of Pipaix, in Hainaut. In the same province, the town of Binche (between Mons and Charleroi) is famous for its pre-Lenten Carnival. It local brewery, La Binchoise, makes a range of honeyish, spicy-tasting, beers. North of Bastogne, near the small town of Houffalize, the Ardennes hamlet of Achouffe has a well-known speciality brewery. Its emblem is La Chouffe, a bearded gnome wearing a red hood. The brewery La Chouffe has a tavern and dining room serving dishes prepared with its beers (tel 061-288147, fax 061-288264) and a shop selling its products. The principal beer, made with soft (piney?) spring water and coriander, has great complexity and delicacy, and can be laid down to mature.